Friday, March 25, 2011

"It's the water, and a lot more!"

For you old fudders out there, do you remember that jingle from Olympia Beer? "It's the water, and a lot more."

Well, that couldn't be truer in the Kanto plain, home of more than 35 million people in and around Tokyo, Yokohama, Chiba, Shizuoka and the Fukushima Nuclear Power Plant. Water at one of Tokyo's water purification plants tested positive for radioactive Iodine 131 a few days ago, and warnings have been issued to parts of the population.

Here are some of the warnings I've received from the Embassy recently:

March 24, 2011

Warning For Parents and Caretakers About Radioactive Iodine Detected in Tokyo Drinking Water Supply
March 24, 2011

The Tokyo metropolitan government on Wednesday, March 23, 2011, cautioned residents that infants should drink only bottled water because radioactive iodine exceeding the limit for that age group was detected in water at a purification plant.

The U.S. Embassy in Japan suggests U.S. citizens who live in Tokyo follow these recommendations. In addition, women who are pregnant or nursing should also follow these recommendations and drink bottled water. This guidance is consistent with the guidance that the United States Government would provide to Americans in the United States under similar circumstances.

(for those of you who don't trust the Japanese government...)

U.S. citizens in metropolitan Tokyo can take the following steps to safeguard the health of infants (aged 0-3 years):

• If giving water to infants, use only bottled water.
• Use only bottled water to mix formula, cereal or other infant foods.

Health experts say that changing the water source for infants from tap water to bottled water should be adequate protection from exposure to radioactive iodine. No additional medication, such as potassium iodide (KI), is necessary at this time.

Good to know, I suppose, but how do you suggest we get bottled water out to the guess-timated nearly 1 million households with infants or pregnant women?

This next bit gave me a bit of a jolt...

The Japanese standard for Iodine-131 in drinking water is 100 becquerels per liter if the water is to be consumed by an infant (0-12 months) and 300 becquerels per liter if the water is to be consumed by an adult. The current reported contamination of 210 becquerels per liter is therefore about twice the permitted level for infants and about two thirds of the permitted level for adults, under Japanese regulations.

--What is the U.S. standard?
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s published standard for Iodine-131 contamination in drinking water is 3 picocuries per liter, which is equal to about 0.1 becquerels per liter.


However, the assumptions underlying the EPA standard for continuous exposure do not apply to the current situation in Japan, which is a temporary exposure resulting from an accidental release. In addition, the science of radiation protection has advanced considerably since the EPA standard was published in 1974. If one uses the latest science and makes the adjustments in the calculations underlying the EPA standard in order to make it applicable to the temporary exposure occurring in Japan, one obtains a figure practically identical to the standard that the Japanese authorities are applying.
Whoo! Had me going for a bit, there....

And then on March 26, it starts to feel a little like "The Day After"...

U.S. Embassy Warden Message to U.S. Citizens: March 26, 2011

Availability of Potassium Iodide Tablets
As a precautionary measure, the U.S. Embassy is continuing to make potassium iodide (KI) tablets available to private U.S. citizens who have not been able to obtain it from their physician, employer, or other sources. We do not a recommend that anyone should take KI at this time. There are risks associated with taking KI. It should only be taken on the advice of emergency management officials, public health officials or your doctor. For more information about KI, see this fact sheet from the Centers for Disease Control,, or contact your doctor.

At this time, the tablets are available Monday through Friday (until further notice) at the U.S. Embassy in Tokyo... ...and at the New Sanno Hotel... ...On Saturday and Sunday (until further notice) there is also distribution at the U.S. Embassy in Tokyo from 12 noon – 4:00 p.m. Allotments of KI tablets will be provided only upon presentation of a valid U.S. passport. U.S. citizens may obtain an allotment for each family member’s valid U.S. passport presented. If you do not have a valid passport, please contact the U.S. Embassy at 03-xxxx-5000. An allotment of tablets will also be made available to a U.S. citizen for his/her non-citizen immediate family members upon presentation of satisfactory evidence of the relationship.

I don't even have to exaggerate for effect with messages like this. I wonder if people there are starting to feel a little bit like a character in Nevil Shute's "On the Beach"?

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